Jordanian Christian Killed in Lebanon Attack

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

European Missionary Family Targeted in Tripoli Bombing

ISTANBUL, May 7 (Compass) -- An Arab convert to Christianity was killed in a bomb blast last night outside his Tripoli apartment, adjacent to the home of a European missionary family thought to have been targeted in the attack.

Jamil Ahmed al-Rifai, 28, died instantly when a 4.5-pound bomb exploded just before midnight in the Qubba suburb of Tripoli, Lebanon’s northern port city.

Despite reports on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network that al-Rifai had himself planted the bomb, eyewitnesses confirmed that the Jordanian Christian was an innocent victim of the attack.

According to Dutch missionary Gerrit “Joep” Griffioen, who survived the attack, his wife had spotted an intruder in the garden next to their ground-floor apartment about 11:30 last night. When Griffioen shouted at the man from his kitchen balcony, he was squatting down with “something glimmering between his hands,” the Dutchman told a close friend in Tripoli today.

Griffioen quickly called his next-door neighbor, al-Rifai, to help him investigate.

By the time the two men got into the garden, the intruder had fled, leaving an object that flickered in the dark. With his bare hands, Griffioen smothered the lit fuse, and then they moved the packet further away from the house. Thinking that they had extinguished the bomb, they looked briefly for the intruder and then returned to the building.

But shortly after Griffioen went back into his home, the bomb exploded, shattering windows of the nearby houses and damaging parked cars. Only after summoning the police to the scene did Griffioen realize that al-Rifai had remained out in the garden, where he was killed by the blast.

A Jordanian citizen, al-Rifai had lived and studied in Lebanon for the past six years. According to the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), al-Rifai left Jordan in 1997 “because of pressure from the authorities over his conversion to Christianity.”

Griffioen told the Dutch Associated Press (ANP) today that he had been “repeatedly threatened” during his 20 years of ministry in Lebanon, but he had never taken the threats seriously.

He was “almost 100 percent certain,” the Dutchman said, that the motive for the attack was religious. While there was widespread interest in the teachings of Jesus Christ among the Lebanese people, he said, there were also “people who took offense.”

Griffioen and his wife Barbel have three children.

The deadly Tripoli bombing was the second attack against Christian missionaries in Lebanon in the past six months.

Last November 21, an unidentified gunman shot and killed American missionary Bonnie Penner Witherall at a Christian medical clinic in Sidon.

Both Sidon and Tripoli are known centers of Sunni Muslim militancy in Lebanon, still recovering from a 16-year civil war which left the populace heavily armed. Although the Beirut central government has regained control of two-thirds of the country, security forces have been unable to curtail ongoing acts of violence.